Honest Weight, 2766 Dundas Street West, 416-604-9992, http://honestweight.ca/
I was happy to see my story in American Way magazine about where to eat oysters in Toronto. Sadly, they edited out one of my choices--Honest Weight—but I’m happy to share it here.
It’s worth the trek along Dundas Street West to find this inauspicious new fish shop and lunch counter (also open for early dinner) owned by master shucker (four time Canadian champ) and restaurateur John Bil.
A small selection of impeccably shucked oysters compliments creative seafood specials. We tried a couple of kusshis (firm, sweet, strong with a grassy finish), and two large Malpeques (salty, sweet and clean with a deep cup…juicy!).
Make sure you check this out on your next trip to Toronto. And say hi from me!
Honest Weight, 2766 Dundas Street West, 416-604-9992, http://honestweight.ca/
So excited my story about Patrick McMurray's Oyster Stout is featured in Modern Farmer Magazine. Here's a teaser...click link for the rest of the story!
Patrick McMurray, a.k.a. Shucker Paddy, knows a thing or two (or three) about oysters. Canadian and World oyster shucking champion, two-time Guinness oyster shucking record holder, author of Consider the Oyster: A Shucker’s Field Guide, and owner of Ceili Cottage and Pearl Diver oyster restaurants in Toronto, the energetic McMurray is a whirling dervish of oyster facts and ephemera....Keep reading...
So excited to have my Toronto oyster-eating story as the cover of the Boston Globe travel section! So many oysters...so little time. Big slurpy oyster hugs and kisses of thanks to those who helped make this happen!
Oh boy, Oyster Boy. Even though I’m writing in my apartment in sunny Miami Beach, I’m wishing I were in your cozy 45-seat storefront, sitting at the long chopping block wood bar—or one of the matching tall tables—in Toronto slurping some fine Canadian oysters.
Oyster Boy may be small but its dedication of oysters is enormous. (“Mollusks for the Masses” is their slogan.) They offer a small, select and changing variety of oysters daily, harvested from sustainable sources on both coasts of Canada.
“We don’t have a large selection but we have really good ones,” said owners Adam Colquhoun, who opened the place on Queen Street West with John Petcoff—back when “there was nothing” much else happening in the neighborhood.
Our choices that afternoon were four from Prince Edward Island (Cascumpec Bay, Oyster Boy Malpeques, Colville Bay, Cooke's), and two from New Brunswick (St. Simon, La Caraquette). Oyster Boy prices them not only by place of origin but also by size: choice, medium and large. I hadn’t seen this done quite like this before—and it makes perfect sense.
“It gives the consumer an idea that the longer the oyster stays in the water, the more it costs,” said Colquhoun.
Oyster Boy buys its product directly from the men and women who fish. “We’re friends with our growers. We express joy and support,” said Colquhoun.
My visit was on the early side of evening, before the crowds arrived. I had a chance to chat with Sam Ravenda, jewelry designer and oyster shucker, who showed me an ab-fab tee shirt THAT I WANT.
“Our customers love this place because the staff are enjoying themselves. It’s all about respect,” said Colquhoun.
(Oyster Boy, 872 Queen St W, 416-534-3432, http://www.oysterboy.ca/)
Pure Spirits Oyster Bar is located in the Distillery District, an area with more than 70 culinary, cultural and retail establishments in restored red brick, Victorian-era buildings of the Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillery. Stylish and casual, the place was quiet at the early hour of 5:30 but I imagine the place gets packed at a later hour. We sat at the bar, surveying the iced selection of seven varieties, and chatted with Calvin Lee, junior sous chef.
We ordered a plate of eight oysters, two each of four varieties, and I wheedled commentary from John Baby: Virginicas, an Eastern oyster grown in Washington State (“Front of tongue tastes Eastern, middle…Western, then metal kicks in.”); Lucky Limes from PEI (“Single source, clean, crisp, salt in middle, balanced salinity.”); Kusshi, B.C. (“Grassy, grassy, grassy, like you just cut the lawn. The taste of renewal.”); Colville Bays from PEI (“Johnny Flynn is the only grower in the bay, on the south and east end of island. The shells are green.”)
What did Lee think of the booming oyster business? Are there enough to go around for all the voracious diners?
“Oysters are sustainable but the demand is growing,” said Lee.
(Pure Spirits Oyster Bar, 37 Mill Street, 416-642-0008, http://www.purespirits.ca/home)
Wow. Toronto is an awesome town for eating oysters. I’m not talking about your standard buck-a-shuck plate (though I never turn those down). I’m talking about high-quality, boutique bivalves expertly shucked and served in a variety of establishments from homey and casual to slick and shiny.
My guide for the three-day oyster-eating extravaganza in Canada’s largest city was chef and oyster shucking judge extraordinaire John Baby (pronounced ‘Babby’). He generously squired me around town—to 11 destinations—and introduced me to almost everyone in the biz. I had previously met a few of Toronto’s World Oyster Opening champs, in my travels to competitions in Charlottetown, Tyne Valley, Miami Beach and Galway, and it was great to reconnect and visit their restaurants and oyster bars. Oyster people are a generous, competitive, fun loving lot, and I’m happy to have met more new friends. And a learned something too: The oyster biz is booming and growers are having a tough time keeping up with demand. What that means for the future is hard to say.
FIRST STOP: DIANA'S SEAFOOD
A thirty-minute drive north and east of town, Diana’s is a family-run seafood market--founded in the 1970’s--operates a separate seafood restaurant (in a former donut shop!) in front. Did I gasp when entering the market? Possibly. I’ve ever seen so many oysters from so many different places in one location. Check out this wall of cases oysters!
According to GM Chris Pipergias, whose parents started the business, the wall houses anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 oysters. (I immediately began scheming—unsuccessfully—about ways I could sneak a case home.) Pipergias estimates he buys 85,000 oysters a week for his retail shop and wholesale clients, offering between 20 and 40 varieties every day.
We tasted three straight out of the case: Eel Lake from Nova Scotia (sweet, fat, not too salty); wild Belons from Maine—a personal favorite—(pungent, metallic finish);
and Shigoku, a gigas species from Washington State (small, plump, zinc and cucumber with huge finish).
Pipergias, who watches trends, predicts that in the next five years “oyster prices will skyrocket, if not double” due to interest from the Chinese market. His shipments arrive on Thursday and Friday, and customers line up out the door.
“The demand for Canadian oysters has gone through the roof,” he said. Yikes! Better eat more oysters now.
Before leaving we stopped by Diana’s Oyster Bar and Grill, a sleek and comfortable space, for a light late lunch. We didn’t want to eat too much as more oysters were on our agenda.
(Diana’s, 2101 Lawrence Ave E., 416-288-9286, www.dianasseafood.com)
Gearing up here for my three-day oyster-eating extravaganza in Toronto next week. I’ll be toured around town by shucking judge extraordinaire John Baby, and hope to meet up with Canadian champs Patrick McMurray and Eamon Clark.
Our schedule is shaping up to include the following oyster-eateries: Diana's; Hopgood's Foodliner; Pure Spirits; Starfish; Oyster Boy ("Mollusks for the Masses"); Fishbar; Wallflower; Chase Fish + oyster; John and Sons; Ceili Cottage; Rodney's Oyster House; and Big Daddy's.
That’s allota oysters!
I grew up spending part of every summer in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, which included eating many oysters. After stumbling into an oyster shucking competition in Miami Beach in 2006, I’ve become a fan of the sport and have written about local, national, and international competitions for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, American Way Magazine, and the Huffington Post. I've also written oyster-centric stories for Rustik and Modern Farmer. I’ve never met an oyster I didn’t want to eat.